Birth: a relative's perspective
December 31, 2012 3:23 AM   Subscribe

My brother and his wife are expecting their (first) baby girl in a week or two. From a relative's point of view, what do the first days/weeks look like? I.e. what is expected of me, what can I help with, what should I avoid, etc.

Unfortunately I will most probably miss the birth itself as I will be abroad for a wedding :( Should I make up for this somehow?

Gifts! When are you expected to give gifts?
posted by Foci for Analysis to Human Relations (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Well, expectations differ depending on the family and what was communicated to you. If nothing was ever said to you, then you're not expected to do much other than to pay a visit to see the baby when you can. That's when you can bring your gift.

But really, you may be overthinking this. Ask your brother and sister-in-law what they need and when they'd be up to seeing you. Help when it's asked for.
posted by inturnaround at 4:13 AM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

First off - wash your hands.

Now that you've done that, remember that your brother and wife will be running on very little sleep for the next few weeks. Hot prepared or easily prepared food (like a lasagna they can pop in the oven) is a wonderful gift. Ask if you could pick up some groceries for them or if your brother wants you to take him to the grocery store (maybe he wants to get out of the house for a bit but is to zonked to drive).

When you get back from the store, wash your hands.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:24 AM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Keep your visits short and sweet!

A small gift would be kind, but a card is enough. Really, it's prepared food we appreciated the most. And yep, ask what you can do and wash your hands.
posted by Specklet at 4:34 AM on December 31, 2012

Tidy the house. Hoover. Cook. All those little things that maintain a house get thrown aside because baby is 24/7, sleep is between seven and 24 minutes a day, and no matter how smooth the birth is, it's a major physical undertaking physically and emotionally.

Do ask first, but from experience, that's what we appreciated a LOT.
posted by ewan at 4:45 AM on December 31, 2012

Nothing is "expected" IMO except for a visit. Things that really help: meals, groceries (ask them what they need), offering to watch the baby for a few minutes so they can get a shower. If you'd like to bring a gift, you can do a piece of clothing, maybe a small toy, etc, but keep in mind this baby probably has plenty already--so only do it if you want to give something to the baby!
posted by litnerd at 4:55 AM on December 31, 2012

Food, food, food, and more food.

Do the dishes. Do the laundry.

And in later weeks, if at all possible, try to see the mom during weekdays if her husband has to go back to work. Nothing is more isolating than being by yourself with a little creature completely dependent on you for everything. Something as simple as calling the day before and asking if you can stop by at 11:30 the next morning with lunch or offering to take her out to lunch with the new baby might also be appreciated.
posted by zizzle at 5:07 AM on December 31, 2012 [8 favorites]

I think there are expectations for family that there are not for friends. That expectation is that you be helpful and not a guest.

Anyway, when you go, talk to them about what they want to eat and at what exact time, and bring dinner. Be conscientious about this because sometimes with new babies there's like a 20 minute window when your SIL can eat (especially if she's breastfeeding but even if not.)
posted by DarlingBri at 5:14 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, just visit. Wash you hands, hold the baby for five minutes, and then offer to either clean up or leave. Bonus points for calling up and telling them you're stopping by the grocery store/grabbing takeout and asking what they're in the mood for.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:21 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't offer! Just DO. Sneak off and clean the bathroom. Stop for takeout. Fold that basket of laundry. Take the baby out for a walk! I hated asking for help as a new mom, I thought I should be able to do it all, but MAN OH MAN was I grateful when help just appeared.
posted by nkknkk at 5:31 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you think that you might be at all sick postpone your visit until you are sure you are well. Minor illnesses can become major problems requiring hospitalization for newborns.
posted by procrastination at 5:42 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

My wife and I had our first child, a girl, this past summer, so all this is pretty fresh in my mind. Everyone else seemed to cover most of the suggestions I was going to make, but I want to stress this: call before you stop by! I find it very annoying during normal times when someone stops by unexpectedly, but it's doubly so when you have a newborn at home and have to catch some quick sleep in every spare second you can find.

That said, when you do visit, make sure you do something to help, just like everyone said. The day my dad and brother came over and cut my grass made my heart swell.

Also, if you do bring a gift for the baby, don't bring newborn clothes; everyone brings clothes, and she'll probably have a pile of clothes of a size that will only be worn for a few weeks. A package of newborn diapers, a few spare newborn bottles and a 3-6 month outfit will be much appreciated, I'm sure.

A little gift for the parents that isn't baby related will knock them over, by the way. A friend brought over baby gifts and a few novels for me, and they shot up several points on the friend scale (people can't *normally* buy an advancement on that list, but...well, you know how it goes). Feeding time gets sort of boring after awhile (at least for the first few weeks), and training myself to hold baby + bottle in one hand and a book in the other saved me several sanity points.

And congratulations on being an uncle!
posted by Wrongshanks at 5:49 AM on December 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

Get size one diapers and not newborns, a lot of full-formed babbys will be in newborn size for oh, three days or so. Size one is usually 8-14lbs and last a bunch longer. Neither of my kids even fit into newborn size at birth (8.5+ lbs each), the hospital just gave us size ones.

And if you're going to help out around the house, which is awesome, just ask what's easiest. I got a lot of help with dishes, but my tiny dishwasher is insanely finicky and I use it more like a rinse/ soap sanitizing cycle - I use water and a brush to scrub all food off beforehand. My mom/MIL didn't, even though I asked, and I had to re-do all the dishes, most with baked-on stuff, and then pick out bits of food from the filter. And it's like, you can't complain about someone helping you for free out of the goodness of their hearts, but it made it a bit worse with an infant squalling and no clean breast pump parts.

I do like the cleaning the bathroom bit. That's awesome, and simple, and no mom in their right mind can get to cleaning the bathroom for like two months after babbyhaving.
posted by kpht at 6:34 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

When my niece was born about twelve years ago, I went out and stayed with my sister and her husband for about a week (they live about six hours away) just to help them out in any way I could (I even took care of one midnight feeding for Mom and Dad!)

I wouldn't necessarily recommend this if you don't have a really close relationship with your brother - having to deal with another person in the house can be stressing when you've got a newborn - but in our situation, it worked.

(It also had the added bonus of exposing me to a baby 24/7, which I'd never had before. I'd been kind of on the fence about it, but when I got back home I said to my husband "yeah, let's have a kid now." Ten months later, our son was born.)
posted by Lucinda at 6:59 AM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

It appears you're in Sweden, which accounts for the ungodly morning hour of your post for my local time. I don't know what immunization rates are like there, or what diseases are around, but if you were in the US, I'd say update your Typhus/Diptheria/Pertussis (TDP or "Tee-dap") immunization.

Pertussis (Whooping Cough) is again on the rise in the US, particularly in my state, thanks to immunization fears or neglect. 4 friends and one cousin all had babies within a span of 5 months last year, and all of them insisted, very reasonably, that friends and relatives get the Pertussis vaccine before they'd be welcome around their respective babies.

It can't hurt, though you may feel a little pinch.

(Oh, and get it in your non-dominant arm-- I totally made the rookie mistake on that one and had some shoulder soreness for days.)
posted by Sunburnt at 7:10 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Visit, bring food you know they both like and clean up afterwards, if the mom seems stressed make sure you're not wearing out your welcome, encourage her to sleep or nurse or do whatever she needs to do even though you're there, and generally be an easygoing, relaxed, helpful set of arms.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:16 AM on December 31, 2012

What everyone else has said. Every time you visit do a job. Don't ask just do it. The shots are a great idea, I got Whooping cough when my nephew was a baby and couldn't visit him for weeks.

What no one ever tells the Aunts/Uncles, prepare to have your heart stolen. I fell in love with my niece and nephew the first time I held them and my whole world shifted in that moment. I have never felt it with any other baby, and in fact don't really like babies and had never wanted kids so it took me completely by surprise as no one told me you fall so completely in love with them.
posted by wwax at 8:38 AM on December 31, 2012

Oh and don't comment on how messy everything is, even if it's jokey. Don't tell other people how messy everything is, or anything at all besides "they both looked beautiful". I'm still pissed at my mother-in-law's comment about how dirty our oven was. It was a throwaway comment, and she probably didn't mean any harm, but brand new motherhood is an extremely vulnerable-feeling time.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:41 AM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

And ask before taking out your camera, and ask again before taking or posting any photos including the new mom, and ask a hundred times before posting any photos in which she is topless. One wouldn't think that one would even have to mention this obvious fact, but it happened to me so I thought I'd mention!
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:44 AM on December 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you're looking for other comments to avoid, it's a great idea not to talk about anyone's weight ("the baby looks too thin, is she ok?" or "you have a lot of baby weight to lose").

I also did not appreciate jokes about the baby getting sick or dying ("I guess I better wash my hands or else I might give him a deadly disease" or "he's so tiny don't you worry the dog might eat him?"). I would start imagining the baby dying and it would make me sob.
posted by medusa at 9:47 AM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Helping out around the house is nice, BUT! As a mere uncle, you'll rank well behind any & all grandparents --- the usual situation is something like the new mother's mother (and perhaps her father) moving in to help out for the first week or ten days, followed by the new father's parents for the second week or so..... if any grandparents are staying there, just make yours a short visit. If no grandparents are in residence, offer to watch your new neice while they get some sleep (not leaving their house with the baby: just sitting there on their couch), or do some laundry, scrub the bathroom, do their grocery shopping....

Gifts: as others note above, don't get anything 'newborn' sized; get at least the next size up (3-6 month sized for clothes, size 1 for diapers). Also, don't worry about having a gift immediately; wait and see what they'd like or want. If they had a baby shower, they've already got tons of stuff to deal with.

Photos: do NOT just go snapping away with a camera! Newborns' eyes are sensitive, and an uncovered camera flash is a BAD idea. ASK before you whip out a camera or camera phone.

The baby herself: look, I'm an aunt, not a mom; let's face it, some kids look funny when they're born. The ONLY comments you're allowed to make about your neice's looks are some variation of "How adorable!" or "She's gorgeous!" or "Gee, Brother, you're so lucky she looks like her mom and not you!" Many babies are bright red when they're born; do NOT comment on that, or her looking squished (you did too at that age) or do anything other than compliment the new parents on their amazingly beautiful baby...... one of my own neices looked just like Winston Churchhill when she was born, but do you think her parents wanted to hear that? Heck no! This is important: lie if you gotta, but call that kid gorgeous. ;D
posted by easily confused at 10:40 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of the best things we got when my son was born, besides food and laundry and all those kinds of things, was a care package. A friend who lives far away mailed us a box with books, chocolate and slippers. Having someone send something *just for us,* not for the baby, made all the difference.
posted by linettasky at 11:02 AM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

The most helpful time of day for me was first thing in the morning. I'd get up, nurse the baby and then hand her off to my mom who would change her if necessary and then play with her and feed her if she was fussy (we supplemented with formula) and rock her. I would sleep for another hour and then shower. Oh man, it made the day so much better to do those things.

If you can arrange it, I bet the parents would love an extra hour of sleep. Don't be scared of the newborn. They won't bite you or break. :)

Clean up any messes that get made while you're there. I just loved (sarcasm) cleaning up after everyone's lunches while my in-laws were over -- they were happy to hold the baby and then hand her over when she got fussy or dirty and then turn back to the football game. I had to go out of my way to ask my father-in-law to help me take out the overflowing kitchen trash which I couldn't lift because of my c-section. ahem

Just, if you're there for a meal or you bring a meal over -- put it away for them/help clean up/take the trash out/offer to fold any laundry. I'm sure they would appreciate all these things.

And just be relaxed and cheerful and tell them how gorgeous the baby is and everything will be fine.
posted by amanda at 11:30 AM on December 31, 2012

I wouldn't "just do" things around the house unless you're fairly close with your brother & SIL. Clean up after yourself of course (and definitely wash hands before holding baby!), but don't just wander off and start washing their dishes or laundry unless you have the kind of relationship with them already where that feels comfortable.

Offer to bring food (their freezer may already be stuffed, but you can offer to bring a hot meal for them to enjoy that evening) without the intention of partaking yourself, hold baby for a few minutes while commenting that she's cute/tiny (even if the baby is not Gerber baby adorable), ask how the parents are doing, ask if you can help, and don't linger. Visits take a lot of energy for new parents when they're already running near empty.

Follow up every once in a while, if you're in town, asking if they need food, help around the house, diapers, babysitting.
posted by asciident at 12:08 PM on December 31, 2012

I just had a baby 8 weeks ago, and what would have helped me the most was other people making decisions and doing things for us, rather than waiting for us to ask or for our opinion. Example: my parents came when our son was 10 days old and pretty much just held the baby, and that was it. Then lunch or dinner time would roll around and they'd look to me to decide on the meal. Don't do this. I was exhausted and didn't have an appetite and could not have cared less about food, and here it was getting later and later because no one could decide on what to get to eat.

So when you visit, say, "hey, since its almost lunch time, let me go down the street to that new pizza place and I'll pick up lunch for everyone. Ok?" Chances are they will eat whatever you bring them.
posted by elisebeth at 1:14 PM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

One comment about food. Think of the top 5 most popular dishes that pack well, and DON'T bring those. I ended up with 4 lasagnas with the ever-so-helpful "you can put it in the freezer."

I also agree with others that buying clothes for anything other than newborn is ideal.
posted by frizz at 8:30 PM on December 31, 2012

So visit but don't stay too long (I live pretty close to the parents-to-be so I can visit them at a moment's notice); help out with everyday stuff if possible; don't buy small clothes and diapers (baby already has tons and tons of clothes); bring food!

Thanks, guys!
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:06 AM on January 2, 2013

Oh, and going forward: being a good uncle doesn't mean you spoil the kid rotten and always give her stuff: it's more a case of listening to her, playing with her, just giving her your time. Later on, when she's a toddler, take her to the zoo or puppet shows or to feed ducks. Color in coloring books, read picture books, play dolls with her.

Be there for her: for a kid, having someone love you is far more important than the latest, coolest toy (but that toy's okay too! :D )
posted by easily confused at 7:02 AM on January 3, 2013

« Older 'Actuality is indexical' in Latin?   |   Help me at least TRY to flirt with my friend Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.